City Paper is not for tourists
For its first third, Two Ladies pretends to be another movie entirely: the story of Selima (Sabrina Ben Abdallah), a French nurse who’s sick of racist patients and tired of pretending she’s a good Muslim for her family. But the story of Philippe Faucon’s amateur-cast film gets its teeth when Selima’s mother, Halima (Zohra Mouffok) becomes full-time help to Selima’s patient Esther (Ariane Jacquot), a Jew who, like Halima, grew up in Algeria. The relationship between these two gives the film its title, and Faucon (who has a small role and also co-wrote the script) handles it with grace and restraint, allowing them an unspoken argument when they watch a news report about Israel, for instance. Halima tells her neighbors she’s looking after Esther only to raise enough money to go on pilgrimage to Mecca, but when Selima’s siblings offer to pay her way themselves, she declines. Sweetest of all in this quietly sweet film is the absence of Big Moments; the joy of Two Ladies is watching Esther and Halima warm to each other without ever saying so.